Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2012-12-08.
Hog Island consists of two-hundred acres of land which sits in Narragansett Bay in the middle of the approach to Bristol Harbor. Shoals which extend from the south of the island make crossing between Narragansett and Mount Hope Bays treacherous.
A buoy had served as a marker for the shoals as early as 1838. However, the Old Colony Steamboat Company, which operated many vessels traversing between Newport and Fall River had a vested interested in increasing the navigability of the area. In 1866, they populated the area with a small light boat. Even though the light on the boat was dim, it would mark the shoals for twenty years.
Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse (Courtesy Coast Guard)
As plans were being formulated to replace the small privately maintained light boat, talk of erecting a lighthouse was discussed. However, the idea was dismissed fearing that a permanent structure would damage the channel, and the cost would be prohibitive. The Lighthouse Board allocated Light Vessel 12, which had most recently served at Eel Grass Shoal before being relegated to relief status in 1884 with the establishment of the Latimer Reef Lighthouse.
In 1886, the Hog Island Shoal Lightship (Light Vessel 12), under control of the Lighthouse Establishment, replaced the small light boat operated by the Old Colony Steamboat Company. The date was August 14, 1886.
The wooden vessel was built in 1846, by 1874; the Lighthouse Board had rebuilt the ship. However, by 1891, it was showing its age again. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1891 reported that the vessel was structurally weak from general decay and is completely beyond economical repair. They had also reported that shipping traffic would benefit from the addition of a steam fog signal, but that the vessel was too small and weak to carry the weight of the equipment.
At this point, the Lighthouse Board had recommended replacement of Light Vessel 12 with a new ship of at least double the size and strength of the current vessel. The following excerpt is from the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1891:
The time has now come when it is deemed necessary to replace this small, weak, worn-out old vessel by a new, strong ship of at least double her size and strength, not only to occupy this station, but in its turn to take its place on the outside exposed stations. It is also proposed that she shall have such steam power as will not only operate a first-class fog signal, but will enable her to get on and off her station with her own steam, and also to steam up to her moorings when otherwise she would be blown away from her place, dragging her anchor or parting her chain cables. It is estimated that such a vessel can be built for $70,000, and it is recommended that an appropriation of this amount be made for that purpose.
In the Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1893, the board again renewed its position that the vessel was weak and in disrepair, and recommended a new lightship to replace the aging Light Vessel 12. The Annual Report of 1895 lists the lightship as needing general repairs and is unfit for anything more than temporary service. By 1896, it was determined that a lighthouse could be built on-site for half the cost of the previously recommended lightship.
> 183. Hog Island Shoal light-vessel, No. 12, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island - The old vessel now on this station will be wholly unfit for service after the present year without extensive repairs. The Board, in its estimates for special appropriations in the annual report for last year, recommended an appropriation of $35,000 for the establishment of a light-house and fog signal on this shoal. The appropriation was not made, and further action in the matter is therefore postponed. The recommendation for the establishment of the light and fog-signal is renewed, as noted elsewhere, on the grounds both of economy and advantage.
Each year, it appears that the Lighthouse Board reported that the vessel was withdrawn from its station for repairs. In 1897, general repairs cost $500 and stated that the vessel received a new main sail, jib, and boat sails, new caboose, paint, rope, cooking utensils, and other items.
In 1898, it appears that the lightship was in a collision. The report lists that it was sent off-site for repairs on December 2, 1898, and returned the next day. Taking its place while off-site was the Lighthouse Tender Cactus.
Congress approved the funds needed for the construction of a lighthouse and fog signal at Hog Island Shoal on March 3, 1899. The Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1899 had the following entry:
187. Hog Island Shoal, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island - By act approved March 3, 1899, an appropriation of $35,000 was made for establishing a light and fog-signal station to take the place of this light vessel. The structure is to be an iron cylinder filled with concrete and surmounted by an iron tower. A preliminary examination of the site was made in June, 1899.
By June 30, 1901, the foundation cylinder was completed and work on the superstructure was commenced. From a report of the Lighthouse Board dated 1901, it appears that the fourth course of foundation cylinder plates from the New Haven Outer Breakwater Lighthouse in Connecticut were not needed, and re-appropriated for the first course of the foundation at Hog Island.
Construction of the "sparkplug" style lighthouse was completed in October of 1901. The cast-iron tower stood sixty-feet tall, and was outfitted with a fifth-order Fresnel lens. A galley occupied the first floor whereas the second and third floors were the crew quarters. The fourth floor served as a storage room and workshop, and the fifth floor was the lantern room. At this point, Light Vessel 12 was relieved of duty on November 14, 1901 and towed to the lighthouse depot at New London, Connecticut. It was later sold at auction for $360.
The compressed air fog siren was installed the following year on April 5, 1902. Later that year, on December 7, delivery and placement of 860 tons of riprap (large granite blocks) was completed per the contract.
The Fresnel lens was upgraded on September 15, 1903. In place of the fifth-order lens, a fourth-order was installed and the dark sector was discontinued. The light would now show as fixed white in place of a flash.
Like its neighbor to the north, the Conimicut Point Lighthouse, it was one of the last few lighthouses to be converted to electricity. The lighthouse utilized kerosene until 1959 when a submarine cable was run to the tower to provide electricity. The lighthouse was automated in 1964.
Over the years, the Coast Guard has renovated and repaired the tower as needed until the lighthouse was made available in 2004 under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. No qualified entity stepped forward, and the lighthouse was put up for auction on May 23, 2006. The winning bidders were Juli and John Chytka with the bid of $165,000.
Note: The lighthouse is private property, please respect this and do not trespass.
Directions: The lighthouse sits in Narragansett Bay nearth the mouth of the Mount Hope Bay, and is therefore best viewed by boat. However, distant views are available from shore at the end of Miller Road just off Bristol Ferry Road.
Access: The lighthouse is private property. No access is permitted.View more Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse pictures